I have written about being put in the middle of two friends fighting on many occasions. It is probably the worst place a person can find themselves. One friend is hellbent on executing a smear campaign against someone and the other is wondering why you won’t defend them.
Sometimes being in the middle is not a great place to be.
I received some excellent advice from an expert and once I put that to the test and realized it works, I have lived by it. I’m going to share that advice with you today. If you want to cut the drama in half, whether you’re in the middle of a fight, or the victim of a smear campaign, then pay attention.
Think of this in terms of a competitive game. It has all of the components. Two teams, a referee and a trophy or a “prize” for the winner. It has good sports and bad sports, hurt feelings, defeat and vicious competition. Usually the two teams are going to battle it out until times up, or the whistle blows. In the meantime, the referee is in the middle, trying to make sure everyone plays fair, no one gets hurt, and that they themselves remain neutral.
But here’s something you never think about while you’re in the middle trying to be Switzerland. No one trusts the referee to be neutral. The referee is always the most disliked part of any game. No matter what the referee does, one team is always going to think their call is bullshit. Do you ever see the referee carried off the playing field on anyone’s shoulders? Are they ever lauded as awesome or even worthy of a mention once the game ends? No, they aren’t. In fact, refereeing is one of the most thankless jobs in the game.
Being in the middle simply means you are a conduit for the fight. You are a messenger and you are being manipulated.
Once the fight ends, your importance and the role you played, never wins a trophy, or a prize. You were only special as long as you did your part to keep the fight going.
A prize is only a prize if two or more people are vying for it.
Think about that. If you take yourself out of the game and there’s only one person left fighting for the prize, that prize isn’t as attractive anymore. Who wants to win something that no one else wants? It’s only appealing when it’s coveted by someone else. Right? What if no one else wanted it and it was just there for the taking? Would that still make it special?
When will some people realize that having something worthwhile isn’t about fighting at all?
As for my own point of view, I have no interest in maligning someone that doesn’t want to be my friend. I will tell the truth about what was done to me and that is very different from maligning them. That’s the truth and it’s something that happened to me. It’s not conjecture or gossip or denigration or insults. It’s simply facts. The difference between telling your story and maligning someone is pretty clear.
Telling your story sounds like this: “When I wouldn’t do what she wanted me to do, she told a bunch of my friends that I was fat and lazy.”
Hurtful gossip sounds like this: “Did that bitch tell you what happened to her? You know she was in trouble for embezzling money from her employers?!!”
Everyone has the right to tell their story. No one has the right to tell your story though.
I’m also not going to try to make them be my friend, or demand they respect my personal boundaries. Everyone has the right to keep their distance and go their own way. They do not have the right to smear your name or pit others against you. When people start doing that, their position is very weak. They are acting out of fear and insecurity. Every time they open their mouth to discredit one of your friends, know what you are seeing. Know that you are being isolated.
Know that the person that acts out in this way will do the same thing to you.
It has been my experience that there is always the one friend that is constantly running their mouths to discredit the friend they are angry with, while the friend is absolutely clueless about anything being said about them. In fact, sometimes the other friend has no idea they are disliked by the person! That’s when you really need to sit up and pay attention to what is happening.
I’m not interested in being friends with someone once they have maligned me to others. Once that boundary is crossed with me, I never go back. They violate the sacred trust of friendship when they do that. How could you ever trust them again? You can’t. It’s just that simple. Move on and make better friends.
If you are in the middle of an argument among friends, it’s a place you have unknowingly put yourself or you have allowed one of them to put you there. It could be that you like them both, or you feel special that you’re friends with both of them and they aren’t pissed at you. Whatever your reasoning, do yourself and your friends a favor and tell them exactly what you think, because no matter what you tell yourself about remaining neutral, the fact that you are in the middle means you are not neutral. You might read many articles online that ask you to be neutral and I am here to tell you that being neutral is total bullshit.
Being in the middle is not a position of power.
Don’t kid yourself by thinking you can fix things. Once you start being the fixer, you might become someone that neither party will trust anymore. Where does that leave you if the fight is resolved? Keep in mind that the first thing to be devoured in an Oreo cookie is the filling in the middle.
Do yourself and your friends a huge favor and stop delivering hurtful messages back and forth between them. Don’t talk about one friend with the other, not even if it’s a good story. Don’t listen to gossip, but validate your friend by telling them you’d be happy to listen to them, but you will not participate in conversations with unhealthy responses like name-calling or exaggerations. Remind them throughout the conversation that the other person is someone you dearly love and also someone that they dearly loved and ask them why they can’t take this conversation to the person it’s about.
When someone refuses to make the effort to approach a peaceful resolution with the other friend, your job is done. There is nothing more you can do, except to stop listening and wish them well.
You might think it’s difficult to steer the conversation away from the fight, but with practice and a reminder that this is your personal boundary, it will get easier. I don’t know about you, but I am quite content to never talk about someone that I don’t like or that I know doesn’t like me. It’s just not a healthy topic to share with anyone that you truly care about being friends with.
There are only a few times I will ever bring the subject up and usually it’s with someone I am close to, that has both of our best interests in resolving the matter in mind. Resolution is the only reason to discuss your misgivings or hurt feelings. I will not bring it up just to gossip about it.
I will also bring it up if the person I’m with keeps talking about the other friend, telling stories, or generally speaking. Then I want to know why this seems to be a favorite topic. Are they fishing for me to say something they can take back to the other friend? If they know you’re fighting, then why rub salt in the wound?
The worst thing about being in the middle is when you tell one friend something mean and hurtful the other has said and you add that caveat; “But please don’t tell them I said anything.”
Know this…if you are told something hurtful like that and then asked to keep quiet about it so the person telling you doesn’t get called out for sharing it, there was a conversation between them and the other friend and this person asking you to keep quiet…did not defend you.
That doesn’t make them a bad person, but it doesn’t make them a good friend either. If it can’t be repeated, and it’s not going to help, then don’t share it.
These days when I find myself being put in the middle, or when I see that someone is creating a competition for their friendship, I simply take myself out of their game. I don’t want friends like that anymore. It’s a constant drama for them and everyone always ends up being hurt.
If I see one of my friends being victimized by another friend, I will choose sides. I have a zero tolerance policy for abusers. Once someone shows me they are so inclined, I lose interest in being their friend. No one has the right to victimize someone. No one.
Someone told me once that I have high expectations when it comes to friends and that is something I will never change about myself. Why would you lower your expectations for the people you allow into your heart? Why would you put yourself through that?
When you can’t respect and honor your friends, you don’t respect and honor yourself.